RoCkInG The Boat!

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Drivers (No Longer) Wanted

A VW Bus

As if the news wasn't bad enough. With my bus still sitting in the shop (Day #4) word comes from Sao Paolo, Brazil that Volkswagen AG, the South American arm of the venerable "people's car" manufacturer will roll the last air-cooled bus off the assembly line sometime tomorrow. Although the bus itself will still be built (it's size-to-carrying capacity ratio makes it a very popular vehicle in the dense urban environments of Brazil), starting next year it will be outfitted with a dual-fuel, water-cooled engine.

Yes, even us VW devotees acknowledge the old air-cooled engines are smelly, loud, leaky, underpowered and achieve gas mileage ratings that make even a Hummer owner wince in sympathy, but they do have the advantage of being easy to work on (which, based on my own personal experience is a GOOD thing, considering how many times mine has gone into the shop in the 6 1/2 years I've owned it), and until now, parts were still fairly easy to obtain.

Now, that's all going to change, as the availability of Brazilian OEM inventories dwindle, and used or remanufactured parts become increasingly scarce. As with the discontinuation of the classic "bug" a few years back, when the last manufacturing plant in Mexico shut down, it will become increasingly difficult for us bus owners to score engine parts, thus hastening the eventual demise of our beloved "splitties" and "breadloaves" (presumably, the later model water-cooled "wedgies" and contemporary-but-far-blander Eurovans won't be affected). So, it's entirely possible that within a decade or two the only people who will be able to continue maintaining their buses are rich folk, and die-hard collectors, effectively relegating the VW's historical egalitarian cache to some dusty historical footnote.

Few other vehicles have exacted a similar level of rabid devotion and loyaly from their drivers; you just don't see people in Nissan Sentras or Dodge Caravans or Ford Explorers or even Cadillacs acknowledge each other the way bus drivers do. There's just something very old-fashioned and even romantic about sitting high up in that forward designed cab, peering out through the wide bay window, and spying another bus approaching from a distance, like two ancient square-rigged schooners on the high seas. Then, just as they pass, their respective captains hail each other with the traditional raised "V" sign, a gesture of greeting and recognition lost on the schools of lesser vehicles swarming in their wake.

The sense of connection one feels to complete strangers, holding in common perhaps nothing else but their mutual affection for these bulbous, ungainly, beloved vehicles is something rare indeed. Owning a VW bus affords one entry to a rather unique fraternity, one not predicated on educational background, professional or political affiliation, or any other quality related to class or income status. You could be liberal or conservative, rich or poor, black, white, yellow or brown, but as the owner of a "Type II", you're all members of the same extended family.

It'll be a sad day indeed when the last VW bus sighs it's final sooty breath on the sides of the Great American Road. And I just hope (as does my mechanic no doubt) that I won't be around to see that day come to pass.

Posted byCOMTE on 10:00 AM

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